When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
"Come out, you dogs, and fight!" said I,
And wept there was but once to die.
But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and say, "The world is so;
And he is wise who lets it go.
A battle lost, a battle won--
The difference is small, my son."
Inertia rides and riddles me;
The which is called Philosophy.
Authors and actors and artists and such
Never know nothing, and never know much.
Sculptors and singers and those of their kidney
Tell their affairs from Seattle to Sydney.
Playwrights and poets and such horses' necks
Start off from anywhere, end up at sex.
Diarists, critics, and similar roe
Never say nothing, and never say no.
People Who Do Things exceed my endurance;
God, for a man that solicits insurance!
There was a rose that faded young;
I saw its shattered beauty hung
Upon a broken stem.
I heard them say, "What need to care
With roses budding everywhere?"
I did not answer them.
There was a bird, brought down to die;
They said, "A hundred fill the sky--
What reason to be sad?"
There was a girl, whose lover fled;
I did not wait, the while they said,
"There's many another lad."
When I am old, and comforted,
And done with this desire,
With Memory to share my bed
And Peace to share my fire,
I'll comb my hair in scalloped bands
Beneath my laundered cap,
And watch my cool and fragile hands
Lie light upon my lap.
And I will have a sprigged gown
With lace to kiss my throat;
I'll draw my curtain to the town,
And hum a purring note.
And I'll forget the way of tears,
And rock, and stir my tea.
But oh, I wish those blessed years
Were further than they be!
Never love a simple lad,
Guard against a wise,
Shun a timid youth and sad,
Hide from haunted eyes.
Never hold your heart in pain
For an evil-doer;
Never flip it down the lane
To a gifted wooer.
Never love a loving son,
Nor a sheep astray;
Gather up your skirts and run
From a tender way.
Never give away a tear,
Never toss a pine;
Should you heed my words, my dear,
You're no blood of mine!
In the pathway of the sun,
In the footsteps of the breeze,
Where the world and sky are one,
He shall ride the silver seas,
He shall cut the glittering wave.
I shall sit at home, and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbor's knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
They will call him brave.
Her mind lives in a quiet room,
A narrow room, and tall,
With pretty lamps to quench the gloom
And mottoes on the wall.
There all the things are waxen neat
And set in decorous lines;
And there are posies, round and sweet,
And little, straightened vines.
Her mind lives tidily, apart
From cold and noise and pain,
And bolts the door against her heart,
Out wailing in the rain.
Oh, I can smile for you, and tilt my head,
And drink your rushing words with eager lips,
And paint my mouth for you a fragrant red,
And trace your brows with tutored finger-tips.
When you rehearse your list of loves to me,
Oh, I can laugh and marvel, rapturous-eyed.
And you laugh back, nor can you ever see
The thousand little deaths my heart has died.
And you believe, so well I know my part,
That I am gay as morning, light as snow,
And all the straining things within my heart
You'll never know.
Oh, I can laugh and listen, when we meet,
And you bring tales of fresh adventurings, --
Of ladies delicately indiscreet,
Of lingering hands, and gently whispered things.
And you are pleased with me, and strive anew
To sing me sagas of your late delights.
Thus do you want me -- marveling, gay, and true,
Nor do you see my staring eyes of nights.
And when, in search of novelty, you stray,
Oh, I can kiss you blithely as you go ....
And what goes on, my love, while you're away,
You'll never know.
The day that I was christened--
It's a hundred years, and more!--
A hag came and listened
At the white church door,
A-hearing her that bore me
And all my kith and kin
Considerately, for me,
While some gave me corals,
And some gave me gold,
And porringers, with morals
The hag stood, buckled
In a dim gray cloak;
Stood there and chuckled,
Spat, and spoke:
"There's few enough in life'll
Be needing my help,
But I've got a trifle
For your fine young whelp.
I give her sadness,
And the gift of pain,
The new-moon madness,
And the love of rain."
And little good to lave me
In their holy silver bowl
After what she gave me--
Rest her soul!
Say my love is easy had,
Say I'm bitten raw with pride,
Say I am too often sad--
Still behold me at your side.
Say I'm neither brave nor young,
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue--
Still you have my heart to wear.
But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!
If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains;
Or had I some poison gas,
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love.
But I have no lethal weapon-
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell.
They say of me, and so they should,
It's doubtful if I come to good.
I see acquaintances and friends
And making enviable names
In science, art, and parlor games.
But I, despite expert advice,
Keep doing things I think are nice,
And though to good I never come--
Inseparable my nose and thumb!
The stars are soft as flowers, and as near;
The hills are webs of shadow, slowly spun;
No separate leaf or single blade is here--
All blend to one.
No moonbeam cuts the air; a sapphire light
Rolls lazily. and slips again to rest.
There is no edged thing in all this night,
Save in my breast.
All her hours were yellow sands,
Blown in foolish whorls and tassels;
Slipping warmly through her hands;
Patted into little castles.
Shiny day on shiny day
Tumbled in a rainbow clutter,
As she flipped them all away,
Sent them spinning down the gutter.
Leave for her a red young rose,
Go your way, and save your pity;
She is happy, for she knows
That her dust is very pretty.
For this my mother wrapped me warm,
And called me home against the storm,
And coaxed my infant nights to quiet,
And gave me roughage in my diet,
And tucked me in my bed at eight,
And clipped my hair, and marked my weight,
And watched me as I sat and stood:
That I might grow to womanhood
To hear a whistle and drop my wits
And break my heart to clattering bits.
Oh, I'd been better dying,
Oh, I was slow and sad;
A fool I was, a-crying
About a cruel lad!
But there was one that found me,
That wept to see me weep,
And had his arm around me,
And gave me words to keep.
And I'd be better dying,
And I am slow and sad;
A fool I am, a-crying
About a tender lad!
Chloe's hair, no doubt, was brighter;
Lydia's mouth more sweetly sad;
Hebe's arms were rather whiter;
Languorous-lidded Helen had
Eyes more blue than e'er the sky was;
Lalage's was subtler stuff;
Still, you used to think that I was
Now you're casting yearning glances
At the pale Penelope;
Cutting in on Claudia's dances;
Taking Iris out to tea.
Iole you find warm-hearted;
Zoe's cheek is far from rough--
Don't you think it's time we parted? . . .
If I were mild, and I were sweet,
And laid my heart before your feet,
And took my dearest thoughts to you,
And hailed your easy lies as true;
Were I to murmur "Yes," and then
"How true, my dear," and "Yes," again,
And wear my eyes discreetly down,
And tremble whitely at your frown,
And keep my words unquestioning
My love, you'd run like anything!
Should I be frail, and I be mad,
And share my heart with every lad,
But beat my head against the floor
What times you wandered past my door;
Were I to doubt, and I to sneer,
And shriek "Farewell!" and still be here,
And break your joy, and quench your trust--
I should not see you for the dust!
This level reach of blue is not my sea;
Here are sweet waters, pretty in the sun,
Whose quiet ripples meet obediently
A marked and measured line, one after one.
This is no sea of mine. that humbly laves
Untroubled sands, spread glittering and warm.
I have a need of wilder, crueler waves;
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
So let a love beat over me again,
Loosing its million desperate breakers wide;
Sudden and terrible to rise and wane;
Roaring the heavens apart; a reckless tide
That casts upon the heart, as it recedes,
Splinters and spars and dripping, salty weeds.
Back of my back, they talk of me,
Gabble and honk and hiss;
Let them batten, and let them be--
Me, I can sing them this:
"Better to shiver beneath the stars,
Head on a faithless breast,
Than peer at the night through rusted bars,
And share an irksome rest.
"Better to see the dawn come up,
Along of a trifling one,
Than set a steady man's cloth and cup
And pray the day be done.
"Better be left by twenty dears
Than lie in a loveless bed;
Better a loaf that's wet with tears
Than cold, unsalted bread."
Back of my back, they wag their chins,
Whinny and bleat and sigh;
But better a heart a-bloom with sins
Than hearts gone yellow and dry!
Oh, I should like to ride the seas,
A roaring buccaneer;
A cutlass banging at my knees,
A dirk behind my ear.
And when my captives' chains would clank
I'd howl with glee and drink,
And then fling out the quivering plank
And watch the beggars sink.
I'd like to straddle gory decks,
And dig in laden sands,
And know the feel of throbbing necks
Between my knotted hands.
Oh, I should like to strut and curse
Among my blackguard crew...
But I am writing little verse,
As little ladies do.
Oh, I should like to dance and laugh
And pose and preen and sway,
And rip the hearts of men in half,
And toss the bits away.
I'd like to view the reeling years
Through unastonished eyes,
And dip my finger-tips in tears,
And give my smiles for sighs.
I'd stroll beyond the ancient bounds,
And tap at fastened gates,
And hear the prettiest of sound-
The clink of shattered fates.
My slaves I'd like to bind with thongs
That cut and burn and chill...
But I am writing little songs,
As little ladies will.
I shall tread, another year,
Ways I walked with Grief,
Past the dry, ungarnered ear
And the brittle leaf.
I shall stand, a year apart,
Wondering, and shy,
Thinking, "Here she broke her heart;
Here she pled to die."
I shall hear the pheasants call,
And the raucous geese;
Down these ways, another Fall,
I shall walk with Peace.
But the pretty path I trod
Hand-in-hand with Love--
Underfoot, the nascent sod,
Brave young boughs above,
And the stripes of ribbon grass
By the curling way--
I shall never dare to pass
To my dying day.
Lady, lady, never start
Conversation toward your heart;
Keep your pretty words serene;
Never murmur what you mean.
Show yourself, by word and look,
Swift and shallow as a brook.
Be as cool and quick to go
As a drop of April snow;
Be as delicate and gay
As a cherry flower in May.
Lady, lady, never speak
Of the tears that burn your cheek--
She will never win him, whose
Words had shown she feared to lose.
Be you wise and never sad,
You will get your lovely lad.
Never serious be, nor true,
And your wish will come to you--
And if that makes you happy, kid,
You'll be the first it ever did.
You know the bloom, unearthly white,
That none has seen by morning light-
The tender moon, alone, may bare
Its beauty to the secret air.
Who'd venture past its dark retreat
Must kneel, for holy things and sweet,
That blossom, mystically blown,
No man may gather for his own
Nor touch it, lest it droop and fall....
Oh, I am not like that at all!
This is what I vow;
He shall have my heart to keep,
Sweetly will we stir and sleep,
All the years, as now.
Swift the measured sands may run;
Love like this is never done;
He and I are welded one:
This is what I vow.
This is what I pray:
Keep him by me tenderly;
Keep him sweet in pride of me,
Ever and a day;
Keep me from the old distress;
Let me, for our happiness,
Be the one to love the less:
This is what I pray.
This is what I know:
Lovers' oaths are thin as rain;
Love's a harbinger of pain--
Would it were not so!
Ever is my heart a-thirst,
Ever is my love accurst;
He is neither last nor first:
This is what I know.
There's little in taking or giving,
There's little in water or wine;
This living, this living, this living
Was never a project of mine.
Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
The gain of the one at the top,
For art is a form of catharsis,
And love is a permanent flop,
And work is the province of cattle,
And rest's for a clam in a shell,
So I'm thinking of throwing the battle--
Would you kindly direct me to hell?
Needle, needle, dip and dart,
Thrusting up and down,
Where's the man could ease a heart
Like a satin gown?
See the stitches curve and crawl
Round the cunning seams--
Patterns thin and sweet and small
As a lady's dreams.
Wantons go in bright brocade;
Brides in organdie;
Gingham's for the plighted maid;
Satin's for the free!
Wool's to line a miser's chest;
Crepe's to calm the old;
Velvet hides an empty breast
Satin's for the bold!
Lawn is for a bishop's yoke;
Linen's for a nun;
Satin is for wiser folk--
Would the dress were done!
Satin glows in candlelight--
Satin's for the proud!
They will say who watch at night,
"What a fine shroud!"
Who was there had seen us
Wouldn't bid him run?
Heavy lay between us
All our sires had done.
There he was, a-springing
Of a pious race,
Setting hags a-swinging
In a market-place;
Sowing turnips over
Where the poppies lay;
Looking past the clover,
Adding up the hay;
Shouting through the Spring song,
Clumping down the sod;
Toadying, in sing-song,
To a crabbed god.
There I was, that came of
Folk of mud and name--
I that had my name of
Them without a name.
Up and down a mountain
Streeled my silly stock;
Passing by a fountain,
Wringing at a rock;
Throwing back their heads,
Fiddling for their dinners,
Kissing for their beds.
Not a one had seen us
Wouldn't help him flee.
Angry ran between us
Blood of him and me.
How shall I be mating
Who have looked above--
Living for a hating,
Dying of a love?